September 3, 1999
Top 50 Film Stars of Contemporary Times


Earlier this summer, the American Film Institute (AFI) announced its list of 50 career legends to a network TV audience. It was an impressive list, but they left off our contemporary stars.

Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn topped the AFI lists that were limited to those whose careers began in 1950 or before, or who have died leaving behind a body of work. Personally, it is difficult to understand how they left off people like Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra.

Anyway, since the AFI list didn't include those actors and actresses who have dominated most of our lifetimes, somebody needs to make up a more current list.

So, here goes.

We didn't take this task lightly. After compiling an initial list of 157 actors, we not only got input from Seaview and Wenonah, but also from Colorado and Germany. And the end result is a list of 25 actors and actresses ranked by the same criteria used by the AFI.

The selections were based on four factors - diversity and degree of acting skills, the body of film work, popularity at the box office and star quality. Keep in mind, these are not necessarily the best pure actors. This is a list of screen legends.

Starting at No. 25 and counting down, we begin with a pair of British actors, Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie. O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year) has seven best actors nominations while Christy (Doctor Zhivago, Darling) was a dominant box office attraction for over a decade.

At No. 24 we have Richard Dreyfuss and Sharon Stone. Dreyfuss (American Graffiti, Jaws, Mr. Holland's Opus) has been creating impressive characters for 33 years. Stone (Basic Instinct, Casino) is relatively new but has gradually won over most of her early critics with solid and versatile performances.

The two at No. 23 are Gene Hackman and Geraldine Page. Hackman (The French Connection, Hoosiers) has won two oscars in four nominations. Page (Sweet Bird of Youth, Trip to Bountiful) has been nominated for seven oscars, winning once.

At No. 22 are Richard Pryor and Glenn Close. Pryor (Silver Streak, Greased Lightning) is perhaps the funniest man of the last 50 years. Close (The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction) has been nominated for five oscars.

The two ranked at No. 21 are radically different - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Glenda Jackson. Arnold (The Terminator, Last Action Hero) is the biggest action star of the last 50 years. Jackson (Women In Love, A Touch of Class) is a consummate actress with two oscars in four nominations.

We start the top 20 with Peter Sellers and Joanne Woodward. Sellers (The Pink Panther, Being There) is a comedy genius with an impressive 35-year career. Woodward (Three Faces of Eve, Rachel Rachel) has a 37-year career with one oscar in three nominations.

Moving on to No. 19 we find Mel Gibson and Winona Ryder, both still turning out hits. Gibson (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart) is one of the great box office attractions. Ryder (Age of Innocence, Little Women) is one of the best of the actresses to hit the scene during the last 15 years.

The duo at No. 18 are Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts, two of today's biggest names. Costner (Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves, JFK) tends to make big pictures that have a big impact. Roberts (Pretty Woman, Pelican Brief) is the highest paid actress in screen history.

At No. 17 we have Denzel Washington and Ann-Margret. Washington (Pelican Brief, Crimson Tide) is a powerful presence who has won one oscar in three nominations. Ann-Margret (Bye Bye Birdie, Carnal Knowledge, Grumpy Old Men) has stayed at the top for 39 years in musicals, comedies and some heavy drama.

Listed at No. 16 are Elvis Presley and Meg Ryan. Elvis (Love Me Tender, Viva Las Vegas) was more talented than the material showed but his star power was undeniable. Ryan (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle) is the queen of feel-good comedies, and would have been a great Elvis co-star.

Holding down No. 15 we have two actors who have been very selective, Warren Beatty and Cher. Beatty (Bonnie & Clyde, Reds) has made only 18 films in 39 years but it is an impressive list. Cher (Mask, Suspect, Moonstruck) has made 10 since her 1967 debut with Sonny but they have clearly demonstrated her versatility and star power.

Moving on to No. 14 we find Sean Connery and Sally Field. Connery (James Bond, Hunt For Red October) has more than 40 years of impressive performances. Field (Norma Rae, Places In The Heart, Forrest Gump) has two oscars and a versatile body of work.

At No. 13 are Clint Eastwood and Julie Andrews. Eastwood (Hang 'Em High, Dirty Harry, Bridges of Madison County) is another actor who won over his early critics with hit after hit during a 45-year career. Andrews (Sound of Music, Victor/Victoria) is one of our greatest musical stars.

Coming down to the final dozen, at No. 12 are Tom Cruise and Sigourney Weaver. Cruise (Risky Business, Top Gun, Rain Man) has a impressive list of hits in less than 20 years, along with two oscar nominations. Weaver (Aliens, Gorillas In The Mist) has a varied catalog of performances, plus three oscar nominations, in just over 20 years.

Joining our list at No. 11 are Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, co-stars of "Up Close and Personal". Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Natural) has been a major star for more than 30 years. Pfeiffer (Married To The Mob, Dangerous Minds) has steadily moved up the ladder over her 20-year career, which includes three oscar nominations.

Starting off the top 10 are Robin Williams and Faye Dunaway. Williams (Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting) has mixed his comic genius with some intense characters, earning four oscar nominations in less than 20 years. Dunaway (Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown, Network) has 33 years of strong performances and three oscar nominations.

Moving up to No. 9, we find Jack Lemmon and Susan Sarandon. Lemmon (Some Like It Hot, The Odd Couple, Save The Tiger) has eight oscar nominations in more than 45 years of consistently remarkable performances. Sarandon (Atlantic City, Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking) has four nominations in just under 30 years of impressive film-making.

At No. 8 are John Travolta and Holly Hunter. Travolta (Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Pulp Fiction) has had two or three different careers over 25 years. Hunter (Broadcast News, The Piano) has been at it less than 20 years with one oscar in three nominations.

The lucky No. 7 positions are held by Robert DeNiro and Barbra Steisand. DeNiro (Raging Bull, Awakenings, Cape Fear) is widely respected as an actor's actor and has six nominations (two oscars) in just over 30 years. Streisand (Funny Girl, The Way We Were, Yentl) has made just 15 films in more than 30 years but it is an impressive list.

Holding down No. 6 are Tom Hanks and Jodie Foster. Hanks (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan) has been making films for less than 20 years but he has pretty much dominated the 90s, with two oscars in four nominations. Foster (Taxi Driver, Silence of the Lambs, Nell) has been turning out films for nearly 30 years and has two oscars in four nominations.

Kicking off the top five are Harrison Ford and Sissy Spacek. Ford (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Fugitive) has just one nomination in 30 years but his body of work and box office power are impressive. Spacek (Coal Miner's Daughter, The River, Crimes of the Heart) has one oscar in five nominations over a 27 year career filled with a variety of characters.

At No. 4 we have Al Pacino and Shirley MacLaine. Pacino (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scent of a Woman) has eight oscar nominations in a 27 year career that began with "The Godfather". MacLaine (The Apartment, Terms of Endearment, Steel Magnolias) has been at it almost 45 years with two oscars in five nominations highlighting a career filled with quality.

The No. 3 positions on our lists are held by Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, those memorable co-stars of "Tootsie". Hoffman (The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, Rain Man) is, quite simply, the finest film actor of all time with two oscars in seven nominations. The only two guys ahead of him beat him mainly on star power. Lange (Country, Sweet Dreams, Music Box) has six nominations in just under 25 years and a deserved reputation for excellence.

The runners-up on our lists of legends are Paul Newman and Meryl Streep. Newman (The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Verdict) has eight oscar nominations and more than 45 years of screen stardom. Streep (Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa, Postcards from the Edge) has earned a remarkable 11 oscar nominations in just over 20 years on the screen in an impressive variety of roles.

Now for the winners.

The No. 1 male screen legend of the second half of the century is Jack Nicholson, with three oscars in 11 nominations. For almost 40 years - from Easy Rider in the 60s, Chinatown and Cuckoo's Nest in the 70's, Terms of Endearment and Batman in the 80s, and A Few Good Men and As Good As It Gets in the 90s - he has dominated the scene.

And the No. 1 female is Jane Fonda, who made the final film of her 30-year career in 1990. Mostly seen now at Atlanta Braves playoff games with her husband, Ted Turner, she changed her career direction and set the pace in fitness videos. But while she was making movies, Fonda won two oscars from seven nominations. Her performances included light comedy (Cat Ballou and 9 to 5), heavy drama (China Syndrome, Agnes of God, Coming Home), character studies (Klute, Julia), a classic film (On Golden Pond) with two other legends - father Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn - and a cult favorite (Barbarella).

There are a number of talented young stars - Gwyneth Paltrow, Cuba Gooding, Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Cameron Diaz, Ben Affleck, Claire Danes and Ving Rhames, among them - just starting their careers who would seem to be early favorites for the first half of the next century.

Anyway, there you have it. The top film legends of the last 50 years. If you disagree or just have an opinion to offer, e-mail us ( because we may be addressing this subject again.

You will find both our list, and the list compiled by AFI from 1950 and before, below.

TW's Screen Legends (1951-1999)
1. Jack Nicholson
2. Paul Newman
3. Dustin Hoffman
4. Al Pacino
5. Harrison Ford
6. Tom Hanks
7. Robert DeNiro
8. John Travolta
9. Jack Lemmon
10. Robin Williams
11. Robert Redford
12. Tom Cruise
13. Clint Eastwood
14. Sean Connery
15. Warren Beatty
16. Elvis Presley
17. Denzel Washington
18. Kevin Costner
19. Mel Gibson
20. Peter Sellers
21. Arnold Schwarzenegger
22. Richard Pryor
23. Gene Hackman
24. Richard Dreyfuss
25. Peter O'Toole

1. Jane Fonda
2. Meryl Streep
3. Jessica Lange
4. Shirley MacLaine
5. Sissy Spacek
6. Jodie Foster
7. Barbra Steisand
8. Holly Hunter
9. Susan Sarandon
10. Faye Dunaway
11. Michelle Pfeiffer
12. Sigourney Weaver
13. Julie Andrews
14. Sally Field
15. Cher
16. Meg Ryan
17. Ann-Margret
18. Julia Roberts
19. Winona Ryder
20. Joanne Woodward
21. Glenda Jackson
22. Glenn Close
23. Geraldine Page
24. Sharon Stone
25. Julie Christie

AFI's Screen Legends (1900-1950)
1. Humphrey Bogart
2. Cary Grant
3. James Stewart
4. Marlon Brando
5. Fred Astaire
6. Henry Fonda
7. Clark Gable
8. James Cagney
9. Spencer Tracy
10. Charlie Chaplin
11. Gary Cooper
12. Gregory Peck
13. John Wayne
14. Laurence Olivier
15. Gene Kelly
16. Orson Welles
17. Kirk Douglas
18. James Dean
19. Burt Lancaster
20. The Marx Brothers
21. Buster Keaton
22. Sidney Poitier
23. Robert Mitchum
24. Edward G. Robinson
25. William Holden

1. Katherine Hepburn
2. Bette Davis
3. Audrey Hepburn
4. Ingrid Bergman
5. Greta Garbo
6. Marilyn Monroe
7. Elizabeth Taylor
8. Judy Garland
9. Marlene Dietrich
10. Joan Crawford
11. Barbara Stanwyck
12. Claudette Colbert
13. Grace Kelly
14. Ginger Rogers
15. Mae West
16. Vivien Leigh
17. Lillian Gish
18. Shirley Temple
19. Rita Hayworth
20. Lauren Bacall
21. Sophia Loren
22. Jean Harlow
23. Carole Lombard
24. Mary Pickford
25. Ava Gardner

Be sure to read The Sandpaper in the Ocean City area and The Beachcomber in the Wildwood area throughout the summer months for similar features.